Born in Reno, raised in Gardnerville and educated at Douglas High School and the University of Miami (Florida) and University of Tübingen (Germany), Lisa Wixon is a former reporter for the Gardnerville Record Courier. In defiance of the U.S. ban on travel to Cuba, she lived in the island nation for a year and wrote a novel, Dirty Blonde and Half-Cuban, which was published in 2005 by HarperCollins and is also available in Spanish (Casi Rubia en la Isla del Deseo). The novel was drawn from the “Havana honey” series published in Salon under the pseudonym “Alysia Vilar.” Her essay “Cuba for Dummies” was published by the Washington Post.

How much difference do you think that a change like this [in the Cuba presidency] at the top is going to make in the ordinary Cuban’s life?

Right away, I don’t think there’ll be any changes. I think that if there are any changes being planned by the continuation of Fidel’s regime, I think that it will take a long time to manifest itself.

Do people in Cuba talk about the government that much?

Absolutely—in fact, it’s sort of the central topic of conversation, but because you don’t really know how other people, including your neighbors, feel about certain subjects, a lot of the political conversations are masked. People use symbols to symbolize, you know, certain people in the government or they talk in analogies. So you could be having a conversation with a street vendor about sugar cane, but you’re really talking about Fidel. So it’s interesting, it’s certainly the most important topic, and people discuss it consistently.

As long as I can remember, people have been saying Castro is about to fall. Now we hear that the regime is expected to make a transition to U.S.-expected standards or it will fall. Are our expectations that much of a factor down there?

I think the truth is … that our expectations have very little to do with what’s really going to happen there. … Again, it goes back to what’s in the hearts and the minds of Cuban people. This is a very intelligent, incredibly well-educated group of people. They follow José Martí, who was their national hero and a poet, and what he wanted for his people and what he wanted for himself was for Cubans to run the country for the Cubans, by the Cubans. So I think the thing is that you have to realize that the Cubans understand that even though they don’t have the technology, they don’t have the capitalism, they don’t have the democracy that they may want for themselves, they know that they’re sacrificing … because they’re going to be able to retain their right to rule themselves. And that’s really what Cubans want—they want to rule themselves.

What would you say the ordinary Cuban attitude is toward the embargo?

Well, the Cubans are certainly hostile to the embargo and rightly so, because the embargo is the reason that they don’t have access to any of the wonders of modern technology. For instance, like if your car breaks down and you need a carburator for it, you can’t get that. You just simply cannot get a part that, you know, probably exists in Cancun like, what’s Cancun—like an hour flight from there?—simply cannot be brought into the country if it has a U.S. patent on it. So the thing is that the people are really frustrated by the embargo, and it only hurts your average Cuban. But the greatest thing about Cubans, they can distinguish between the American government and the American people. So when American people go to visit Cuba, they love Americans, and they’re really happy to receive them. But they really want an end to the embargo, more than anything.

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Dennis Myers

Dennis Myers was the news editor of the Reno News & Review. He was a journalist for more than four decades. In 1987-88 he was chief deputy secretary of state of Nevada. He was coauthor of Uniquely...